Solutions to End Homelessness

Ideas from Donna Gallup, CEO and president of American Family Housing:

This nonprofit organization developed the 16-unit Potter’s Lane apartments in Midway City for homeless veterans, made from recycled shipping containers. Each 480-square-foot apartment uses three containers and has a combined bedroom and dining area, kitchen, bath, and two walls with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Potter’s Lane

What’s working right now? “Through Potter’s Lane we’ve developed an innovative model that can easily be replicated to save time in the development process and ensure that the homeless get housed as quickly as possible. … The fact that the county has supported this—Supervisor Andrew Do, the local VA, all our service partners, the housing authority—the fact that everybody has come together to support the project and make this happen here, the first in the nation, I think
is a very important point to be made.”

What should we be doing? “(People) … have a very, very difficult time securing a place to live. That problem is across the county. What are we going to do as a community to create new opportunities? Whether it’s with private landlords, new developments like Potter’s Lane, or utilizing
or repurposing properties or lots not currently being used for this purpose, that’s something that as a community we could do a better job of.”

Ideas from Paul Leon, president and CEO of Illumination Foundation:

This nonprofit, which has various programs, has focused particularly on helping homeless people recovering from a health crisis.

What’s working right now? “So, the county is really making a concerted effort to, one, provide more housing—we’re going to do more housing this year than we have in the past 25 years in Orange County. We’re investing in recuperative care, and that’s covered by CalOptima so that is a benefit that’s going to come in their medical package and it also allows us to work with hospitals, jails, and other nonprofits who don’t know what to do when they come up with a homeless person and have nowhere for them to go. It is the key to that continuum where the (homeless) can go from recuperative to housing. We’re excited because it’s starting to work more.”

What should we be doing? “People don’t understand about homelessness, and yet they’re so quick to condemn them and say, ‘Why couldn’t they get with the system?’ My argument is, let me saddle you with schizophrenia or bipolar or a physical disability. It’s so difficult to try to navigate the system. … I guarantee you, you wouldn’t be able to do it. Reeducating the public from every aspect is something we need to continue to work on.”

Ideas from Jean Watkins, director of social services, Salvation Army Orange County:

This faith-based group opened a new facility, Hospitality House, in Santa Ana in the fall. It also provides housing and services to families at apartments and townhouses in Tustin and Buena Park.

What’s working right now? “I think the start of the (county’s Ending Homelessness) 2020 plan … helped everybody start thinking together. Even though there’s a lot of resistance (still) to having homeless in your area, there’s at least the willingness to pass laws that say you’re supposed to provide shelter for them, and the city and county are learning how to work on that with the nonprofits and other organizations.”

What should we be doing? “We need more affordable housing for not just homeless, but for a lot of people. … The other part is there are so many different causes of homelessness. In Orange County, we’re probably two or three paychecks away from homelessness in most of our populations. So we have to see it as more of a ‘together issue’ and not an us-versus-them issue.”

Ideas from Brad Fieldhouse, executive director of City Net:

This nonprofit coordinates outreach services and community resources at The Courtyard, the county-owned emergency shelter created in 2015 at a converted bus terminal in downtown Santa Ana.

What’s working right now? “Where the county, city, and residents are owning up to the reality that homeless people are with us … we are seeing best practices implemented. We are seeing success stories. We are seeing proper usage and stewarding and solicitation of resources. Where we have said we are not going to pretend that homelessness doesn’t exist, great things are happening countywide.”

What should we be doing? “One, we need affordable housing. … Two, we need to deal with the mental health issue. … Third thing is there needs to be a call for a county and city—not either-or—but a county and a city cohesive strategy where everybody plays their respective parts in Orange County. Homelessness can be significantly reduced—80 to 90 percent, street-level homelessness—if we just worked better together with what we have and who we have.”

What Worked in Utah
Recycling motel rooms into homes

Give the homeless a home. It’s a startlingly simple solution, and it worked for Utah, where 91 percent of the state’s chronically homeless have graduated from the street into permanent affordable housing.

Tapping funds from the state Homeless Trust Fund (similar to a fund California voters approved as an initiative and the governor signed in July 2016), Utah officials built and rehabbed former motels creating 1,000 units, along with another several hundred scattered apartments that are master leased; the first homeless tenants took residence in 2005.

A decade in, the program has worked remarkably well. The vast majority—85 percent—of these formerly chronically homeless individuals are still living in their apartments a year after move-in, in part because they’re allowed to live there without the strict rules found in many shelters. Even alcohol and drug use are allowed, but case managers are required to meet with tenants once a week. The case manager sets them up with services that can help them address their problems and sometimes find employment.

Residents are required to contribute a third of their income or $50 per month, whichever is greater, and the balance is made up with a combination of federal and state housing funds, block grants, and donations.

“You have to have a champion,” says Lloyd Pendleton, the former chairman of the Utah Homeless Task Force who envisioned the solution and then spent years visiting every corner of the state to get buy-in. “That champion needs to be at a high enough level that they can reprioritize existing funding and make systemic changes.”

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